Today Billy and I were gearing up for the real reason we were down in London for the weekend, the Football Conference Play-off Final between Cambridge United and the mighty Gateshead FC at Wembley Stadium. Whilst I certainly couldn’t claim to be their biggest fan I have managed to drag myself along to at least a couple of games each season over the past 10 years. Billy has been a fan since the mid 70s and gets to way more games than me. I made sure I was suitably attired for the event.
I used to be more of a football fan and would get to several Newcastle games a season as well as the odd International and overseas game but I kind of fell out of love with the sport about 10 years ago. The commercialisation of the game was its downfall for me. Players just seemed to stop giving a fuck about the team they were playing for. As fans turn up week in week out because of passion, this just jarred with me. Lower league football is largely devoid of this problem so tends to be a more enjoyable experience for me.
Surprisingly after yesterday’s fun and games both Billy and I were in pretty good shape and all that would be required to get us to 100% would be a jolly good fry up. We had planned to take in the Comics Unmasked exhibition at the British Library so headed off toward Kings Cross to find a greasy spoon. I don’t recall the name of the place we landed in but it had air conditioning which was a boon given the already high temperatures and blazing sunshine outside. Bewilderingly they had a menu for English Breakfasts which was two pages long but a random order gave us what we needed.
I’ve popped into the British Library a few times when I’ve been in London for business and have an hour or two to spare (and don’t fancy a drink). Despite what that parasite Prince Charles says, I think it’s a great building. The exhibition was sub titled Art and Anarchy in the UK and promised to be the largest ever of mainstream and underground comics, with an emphasis on politics, sexuality, violence etc. Top stuff then.
No photography was allowed in the exhibition so no pics but I can heartily recommend it. Concentrating, not surprisingly, a lot on the likes of 2000AD, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman et al it was a well put together event. If I had one criticism it would be that it did perhaps concentrate on the 1970s-1990s period too much. But given the quality therein it’s a minor quibble. If you are in London any time before the 19th August and have a couple of hours to spare this should be high on your list of To Do’s.
With the hors d’oeuvres out of the way it was now on to the main event of the day. A quick walk to Kings Cross had us on the Metropolitan Line and on our way to Wembley. I’d been to the old stadium before and it was a shit hole that was long overdue for demolition so I was interested to see how the new one fared. To say Billy and I were outnumbered by Cambridge fans was a bit of an understatement, the tube was packed with the buggers. There was no sense of menace at any point though and a big shout to them for the way they handled themselves all day. There was one surreal moment though when one of them asked Billy where Gateshead was in the UK. Err, know your enemy and all that next time guys, eh?
Stepping out of the station and on to Olympic Way we started to encounter a lot more ‘Heed fans. Most of them had travelled down on the day in a convoy of over 40 coaches, including Billy’s bother Mickey who we were due to meet up with. Walking up towards the stadium we arranged a rendezvous point over the phone. Just as we were due to arrive there we saw a familiar face, Michael Brown. Erstwhile reporter for the Evening Chronicle and fellow beer lover. He was getting vox pop interviews with fans on their way to the stadium and so got us to add our two-penneth. He also kindly took a great photo of the pair of us with the stadium in the background as seen below.
Mickey joined us at this point so we made our way up and into the stadium, after buying the obligatory match program. We had arrived over an hour ahead of kick off to soak in a bit of the atmosphere and have a look around. What a difference the new stadium is after the old. Clean, welcoming and easy to get around. I was well impressed. OK, so the prices inside were extortionate and the quality of the food average but it was well organised and efficient. The beer was some sponsor’s piss water, Heineken I think. I stuck to the Coke. We also bumped into Byker beer legend Rod too, who was sitting in the block behind us and is always good company.
The match itself? Well the first half was goalless and relatively even. Perhaps Gateshead had a slight edge but not a lot in it. Cambridge changed things around for the second half and ex-Gateshead and Newcastle player Ryan Donaldson created then scored a goal to put them two up. To be fair to the ‘Heed they fought back with a goal and came close to grabbing an equaliser on a couple of occasions, but it wasn’t to be. Fair play to the fans who sang their hearts out all game and gave the losing team an excellent reception as they trudged dependently off the pitch. The lack of a good striker was ultimately the difference and one that will have to be remedied ahead of next season.
A quick exit towards the tube was made, leaving Mickey and Rod to catch their coach back up north. None of us particularly wanted to be sharing a journey back into London with a hoard of over excited Cambridge fans. We caught a tube almost immediately and were in Kings Cross in good time. The plan had been to hang around and catch the 9 or 10pm train back north after a drink or two but the 7pm was waiting on the platform when we arrived so we just jumped aboard. The journey back was spent reflecting on what had been, despite, today’s result, a great weekend.
*By last Sunday I mean Sunday 18th May. Not yesterday (25th May) which I consider to be this Sunday. Next Sunday (1s June) is, well, next Sunday. I hope that’s clear?